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'Brain transplant' for Mars rover complete

'Brain transplant' for Mars rover complete
Curiosity's new home in Gale Crater, seen in the updated landing graphic with the green dot showing the rover's landing spot. Credit: NASA/JPL

PASADENA, Calif., Aug. 15 (UPI) -- NASA scientists say they've completed a "brain transplant" in the Mars Curiosity rover to prepare it for its investigations of the Red Planet's surface.

The "transplant" was a four-day process transitioning both of Curiosity's main computers from flight and landing software to instructions for driving and using tools on the rover's arm, a release from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said Wednesday.

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"We have successfully completed the brain transplant," Curiosity Mission Manager at JPL Mike Watkins said. "Now we are moving on to a new phase of functional checkouts of the science instruments and preparations for a short test drive."

That first drive, which could take place within a week, will likely include short forward and reverse segments and a turn, to test the separate drive motor on each of its six wheels and the steering motors on the four corner wheels, Curiosity team members said.

That will be followed by a second testing phase focused on use of the rover's robotic arm.

During the testing periods the 400-member Curiosity science team will have the opportunity to pick a location for the rover to drive to.

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"It's fair to say that the scientists, not to mention the rover drivers, are itching to move," said JPL's Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for Curiosity.

Curiosity's prime mission is to investigate whether the selected area of Mars has ever offered chemical ingredients for life and other environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life.

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